Oscar Nominations Predictions: Expect Lotsa ‘La La Land’ But What Else?

Damien Chazelle’s musical could score a lucky 13 with Oscar voters, but there are lots of question marks as nominations morning approaches

Last Updated: February 26, 2017 @ 11:01 AM

“La La Land” will lead all films with 13 Oscar nominations. “Arrival” will be second with nine, followed by “Moonlight” with eight and “Manchester by the Sea” with seven. Five of the acting nominees will be African American.

At least, that’s what you get if you add up my predictions for the Oscar nominations: a monster haul for “La La Land,” which if I’m right would end up with more noms than any movie since “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 2009. So I’m probably overstating the Academy’s love for “La La Land” — but then, I scaled back my Golden Globe predictions thinking they couldn’t possibly give that movie more than five awards, and it ended up winning seven.

So I’m not going to worry about which films are getting too many Oscar nominations in these predictions. This is a year with “La La Land,” “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” occupying the top spots much of the time, with “Arrival” coming up strong, and with lots of question marks in categories like Best Actress, Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.

So here we are: My best guesses as we approach Tuesday’s nominations morning at the 89th Academy Awards.

BEST PICTURE
“La La Land,” “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Arrival” and “Lion” all seem like locks, and their fellow Producers Guild Award nominees “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water” and “Hidden Figures” are clearly in the thick of the race as well. (As for the 10th PGA nominee, “Deadpool,” probably not.)

But how many Best Picture slots will the voting process create this year, and which of the remaining contenders will get the passionate supporters to put them at the top of enough ballots?

I think “Hell or High Water” is all but assured of a nomination, and the Actors Branch will probably put “Fences” over the top. That’s seven nominees, and I suspect there won’t be more than eight this year — so the question becomes, will it be “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hidden Figures,” “Silence” or “Loving?”

I’m going with “Hidden Figures,” which got a nice boost from its boxoffice figures, and doesn’t have the baggage of Mel Gibson and “Hacksaw.” But the preferential ballot could really help “Silence,” despite a lack of broad support for the Scorsese movie.

Predicted nominees, in order of probability:
“La La Land”
“Moonlight”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Arrival”
“Lion”
“Hell or High Water”
“Hidden Figures”
“Fences”

If there’s a ninth nominee: “Hacksaw Ridge”

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival” / photographed by Elisabeth Caren

BEST DIRECTOR
The DGA nominees were Damien Chazelle for “La La Land,” Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight,” Kenneth Lonergan for “Manchester by the Sea,” Denis Villeneuve for “Arrival” and Garth Davis for “Lion.” History suggests that one of the four will be replaced on the Oscar list; if so, Davis is the likeliest to be left out, either for an icon like Martin Scorsese (“Silence”) or a hot newcomer like David Mackenzie (“Hell or High Water”).

In recent years, the Directors Branch has thrown lots of curveballs as it has admitted lots of international members, which could make them even more adventurous and help the cases of Maren Ade (“Toni Erdmann”) and Pablo Larrain (“Neruda” or “Jackie”). Still, it’s hard to imagine them going outside the slate of Best Picture nominees for a directing, which has only happened once in the seven years since the best-pic category expanded.

Predicted nominees:
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
David Mackenzie, “Hell or High Water”

BEST ACTOR
This is another category where four of the five nominees seem to be pretty secure: Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea,” Denzel Washington for “Fences,” Ryan Gosling for “La La Land” and Andrew Garfield for “Hacksaw Ridge.” The fifth could go to the always beloved (but lately, often overlooked) Tom Hanks for “Sully,” or the understated Joel Edgerton for “Loving,” or the late-arriving Michael Keaton for “The Founder” — but we think Oscar voters will agree with SAG and give it to Viggo Mortensen for “Captain Fantastic.”

Predicted nominees:
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”

elle isabelle huppert

Isabelle Huppert, “Elle” / Sony Pictures Classics

BEST ACTRESS
Once upon a time, Isabelle Huppert seemed like a longshot for Paul Verhoeven’s disturbing “Elle” — but a bunch of critics’ awards, a SAG nomination and a Golden Globe win later, she’s looking like a favorite alongside Emma Stone for “La La Land” and Natalie Portman for “Jackie.” But in this most competitive of the acting races, that leaves only two slots for four real heavyweights: Amy Adams for “Arrival,” Annette Bening for “20th Century Women,” Ruth Negga for “Loving” and Meryl Streep for “Florence Foster Jenkins.” I’ll reluctantly and sadly predict that Bening and Negga will be left out, knowing that they could easily be the two who get in.

Predicted nominees:
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
This seems to be the year for Mahershala Ali, who packs a big punch in the first third of “Moonlight.” The beloved vet Jeff Bridges will probably get in despite competition from his “Hell or High Water” castmate Ben Foster. Dev Patel should land a nod even though lots of people prefer Sunny Pawar, the little boy who plays his character as a child. And while Lucas Hedges has a shot at being this year’s Shailene Woodley in “The Descendants” — i.e., the accomplished teen actor who inexplicably gets overlooked — he’s too good in “Manchester by the Sea” to ignore.

That leaves one spot for Hugh Grant (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), Kevin Costner (“Hidden Figures”), Issei Ogata (“Silence”) or Michael Shannon or Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”). I’ll play it safe and say it goes to Grant.

Predicted nominees:
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

fences viola davis

Viola Davis, “Fences” / Paramount

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The big question: Once voters have made room for Viola Davis (“Fences”), Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) and Nicole Kidman (“Lion”), does the last spot go to Octavia Spencer for “Hidden Figures” or Greta Gerwig for “20th Century Women?” I’m guessing it’ll be Spencer.

Predicted nominees:
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
By moving “Moonlight” here from the Best Original Screenplay category (where it’s been competing at most other awards shows, including the Writers Guild Awards), the Academy gave the category an instant frontrunner. The late August Wilson should get a posthumous nod for “Fences,” and “Lion” should get in, too.

But the Writers Branch is often the most idiosyncratic Academy branch, which could help the likes of “Nocturnal Animals,” “Love & Friendship,” “Elle” and “Loving” over “Hidden Figures” and “Arrival” for the remaining spots. I suspect, though, that they’ll play it pretty straight here, and save the idiosyncratic choices for Best Original Screenplay.

Predicted nominees:
“Moonlight”
“Fences”
“Lion”
“Arrival”
“Hidden Figures”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Manchester by the Sea,” “La La Land” and “Hell or High Water” seem safe. Other contenders include “Jackie,” “The Lobster,” “Captain Fantastic,” “20th Century Women” and “Zootopia.” Voters don’t seem to have responded to “Jackie” beyond Natalie Portman‘s performance, so I suspect they’ll go for “Captain Fantastic” and then go for the quirkiness of “The Lobster” over the richly deserving “Zootopia” and “20th Century Women.”

Predicted nominees:
“Manchester by the Sea”
“La La Land”
“Hell or High Water”
“Captain Fantastic”
“The Lobster”

The Red Turtle

“The Red Turtle” / Sony Pictures Classics

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
There are a record 27 contenders – and to my mind, only two real locks, “Zootopia” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.” The field includes lots of major-studio contenders – “Moana,” “Finding Dory,” “Sing,” “Trolls,” “Kung Fu Panda 3.”

But the committee who votes in this category loves hand-drawn and stop-motion films over CG ones, and that could help an array of smaller movies, from the stop-motion “The Little Prince” and “My Life as a Zucchini” to “April and the Extraordinary World,” “The Red Turtle” and the Japanese films “Miss Hokusai” and “Your Name.”

While “Moana” has a real shot to give Disney two of the five nominees, I’m guessing they ignore almost all of the big-studio productions and stack the deck with smaller, more handmade films.

Predicted nominees:
“Zootopia”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“My Life as a Zucchini”
“The Red Turtle”
“Your Name”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Three of the top contenders – “O.J.: Made in America,” “I Am Not Your Negro” and “13th” – focus on race in America, but will voters want to spread things around thematically? If so, Ava DuVernay’s “13th” could lose out to the epic “O.J.” and the artful “I Am Not Your Negro,” and also open the door for movies like “Life, Animated,” “Cameraperson,” “Fire at Sea,” “Tower,” “The Ivory Game” and “Weiner.” (Or will they hold Hillary’s loss against Anthony Weiner, and penalize the film because of that? They just might.)

I also continue to believe that the Academy’s Documentary Branch will not be swayed by the crowd-pleasing manipulations of “The Eagle Huntress,” though they disappointed me by putting it on the shortlist.

Predicted nominees:
“O.J.: Made in America”
“Life, Animated”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“Cameraperson”
“13th”

The Salesman Cannes

“The Salesman”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
This year’s nine-film foreign-language shortlist is disappointingly soft once you get past the two films, “The Salesman” and “It’s Only the End of the World,” that were obviously saved by the executive committee that augments the general voters’ six top choices with three additional films.

But here’s one key to predicting the nominations: The taste of the largely handpicked 40-person committees that watch all nine shortlisted films over three days and then choose the five nominees tends to be adventurous, not safe. That could spell trouble for “A Man Called Ove,” a crowd-pleaser that may just be viewed as too conventional by a committee looking for more substantial fare.

“Toni Erdmann” and “The Salesman” are the two slam-dunk nominees, and “Land of Mine” is solid, tense, mainstream filmmaking that probably packs enough of a punch to make the cut. But the last two slots are something of a mystery, because “It’s Only the End of the World” is probably far too abrasive and divisive to make it to the next step. “Paradise” is the most stylish and ambitious of the others, while “Tanna” is gorgeous and mysterious, “The King’s Choice” is a solid World War II saga and “My Life as a Zucchini” a touching piece of stop-motion animation. I’m guessing that when the committee saw them all back-to-back, “Zucchini” stood out.

Predicted nominees:
“Toni Erdmann” (Germany)
“The Salesman” (Iran)
“Land of Mine” (Denmark)
“My Life as a Zucchini” (Switzerland)
“Paradise” (Russia)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Will “La La Land” get one nomination, or two? (It entered three songs, but current Oscar rules only allow two nominations per movie.) Two seems right for the musical that is primed to grab more noms than any other movie, which means “City of Stars” for sure, and most likely “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” over the film’s John Legend song “Start a Fire.”

The other nominees are likely to include “How Far I’ll Go,” a new Disney princess anthem from the EGOT-seeking Lin-Manuel Miranda — but beyond that, the field is wide open, and full of big names.

Under the old system of nominating in this category, songs that were performed in their movies had a big advantage, and smaller films could sneak in on the basis of their film clips, which every voter had to watch. But the new system makes it harder for a little film to attract enough attention, which could even hurt Burt Bacharach (“Dancing With Your Shadow” from “Po”) and the terrific songs from John Carney’s “Sing Street.”

I think one of the timeliest songs in the field, Common’s “Letter to the Free” from “13th,” will get in, and so will “The Rules Don’t Apply,” the song that gave Warren Beatty’s movie its title and its emotional centerpiece.

Predicted nominees:
“City of Stars” from “La La Land”
“How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land”
“Letter to the Free” from “13th”
“The Rules Don’t Apply” from “Rules Don’t Apply”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Back in the 1990s, the Academy briefly changed the rules in this category because Alan Menken kept winning the Best Original Score Oscar for his scores to Disney musicals. More recently, the Music branch often disqualified scores that were diluted by too many songs. But Justin Hurwitz’s score to “La La Land” is in the running and will almost certainly be nominated, as will “Lion.”

If Music Branch voters want to get adventurous, there’s “Jackie” and “Moonlight”; if they want traditional, John Williams has a new score to “The BFG”; if they want to split the difference, “Nocturnal Animals” could do the trick. I’m guessing “Jackie” proves to be too weird, and Williams gets his 51st nomination.

Predicted nominees:
“La La Land”
“Moonlight”
“Lion”
“The BFG”
“Nocturnal Animals”

Arrival

“Arrival” / Paramount

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The American Society of Cinematographers nominated “Arrival,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Moonlight” and “Silence,” and the ASC usually picks four of the five Oscar nominees. So which film gets replaced, and with what? “Silence” and “Lion” are the two that could fall out, while “Jackie,” “Nocturnal Animals” and “Hail, Caesar!” are among the ones that could slide in.

And could enough branch members have seen Park Chan-wook’s gorgeous thriller “The Handmaiden” to give it the votes it needs? (It only takes 41 out of 240.) That would be a delicious surprise, but I’m guessing it’ll be “Lion” out, “Jackie” in.

Predicted nominees:
“La La Land”
“Moonlight”
“Arrival”
“Silence”
“Jackie”

BEST FILM EDITING
Out of the last 35 nominees in this category, 33 have also been Best Picture nominees. So it’s good to look for best-pic contenders that also have reason for film editors to recognize them: musical numbers (“La La Land”), flashbacks (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Arrival”), unusual structure (“Moonlight”) and hyperkinetic action (“Hacksaw Ridge”). Other possible nominees include “Jackie,” “Silence,” “The Jungle Book” and “Hell or High Water.”

Predicted nominees:
“La La Land”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Arrival”
“Moonlight”
“Manchester by the Sea”

Natalie Portman Jackie

“Jackie” / photo by Pablo Larrain/20th Century Fox

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Are first lady Jackie Kennedy’s clothes so iconic as to bring an Oscar nomination to the designer who re-created them? You bet. The dazzle of “La La Land” will get it nominated here (and in production design) even though the slots are normally reserved for fantasies like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and period pieces like “Florence Foster Jenkins,” “Allied,” “Love & Friendship” and, of course, “The Dressmaker.”

Predicted nominees:
“Jackie”
“La La Land”
“Florence Foster Jenkins”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
“The Dressmaker”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Many of the same films will be nominated here and in costume design, though the old-Hollywood re-creations of “Hail, Caesar!” could also slide in.

Predicted nominees:
“La La Land”
“Jackie”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
“Hail, Caesar!”
“The Handmaiden”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
When an off-the-wall choice makes the makeup and hair shortlist, it usually gets nominated. (Examples include “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” and last year’s “The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.” This year, that would be the Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” which could well join two out of “Deadpool,” “Florence Foster Jenkins” and “Star Trek Beyond” on the three-film list.

Predicted nominees:
“Deadpool”
“Star Trek Beyond”
“A Man Called Ove”

hacksaw ridge andrew garfield

“Hacksaw Ridge”

BEST SOUND EDITING
It does a disservice to sound artisans to say that loud movies do well in this category, which honors the creation of effects. But, you know, they do, which is good news for “Rogue One,” “Arrival,” Deepwater Horizon” and especially “Hacksaw Ridge.” “La La Land” is expected by many to make the cut, but if it does it’ll be the first musical ever to turn that trick.

Predicted nominees:
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Rogue One”
“Arrival”
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Sully”

BEST SOUND MIXING
In this category, on the other hand, the award goes for the overall sound mix; musicals often get nominated, and “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle‘s last film, “Whiplash,” won. So “La La” is likely, along with a few of those louder movies.

Predicted nominees:
“La La Land”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Arrival”
“Rogue One”
“Deepwater Horizon”

raksha jungle book

“The Jungle Book” / Disney

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
“The Jungle Book” is a lock, because most of its characters and background are completely CG. “Rogue One” and “Doctor Strange” are big CG extravaganzas that also feel fresh. “Deepwater Horizon” effectively renders both fire and water, two very different challenges. “Arrival” fills the slot that almost always goes to a Best Picture nominee. But the real wild card here is “Kubo and the Two Strings,” Laika’s stop-motion epic could become the first animated film ever nominated in this category.

Predicted nominees:
“The Jungle Book”
“Rogue One”
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Arrival”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”

THE SHORTS CATEGORIES
Until now, my predictions have been helped by the fact that I’ve seen every movie I’ve mentioned. But I haven’t seen enough of the films in the three shorts categories to intelligently predict the nominees. From what I have seen and heard, the ones to watch in the documentary-short category are “The White Helmets,” “Joe’s Violin,” “Close Ties” and “4.1 Miles” at the top of the list, with “Watani: My Homeland” and “Extremis” in the running as well.

In the live-action category, I wouldn’t bet against Kim Magnusson’s film “Silent Nights,” considering that the Danish producer has been nominated five times and won twice. (And his father has two noms and a win, too.) There’s also some buzz behind the post-apocalyptic “Graffiti,” the Student Oscar winner “Nocturne in Black,” the comic “Timecode” (with a late-minute twist, which Oscar voters love) the Hungarian childhood tale “Sing” and Selim Azzazi’s “Ennemis Interieurs,” about a man caught in a French terrorist investigation.

And in the animated-short category, two are from Disney/Pixar (“Piper” and “Inner Workings”), though I don’t think either is among those companies’ best, while “Borrowed Time” was made by moonlighting Pixar artists. Viewers with the right browsers can change the perspective in “Pearl” by 360 degrees, but the technology might outweigh the charming story. Academy voters like hand-drawn animation, which could help the Student Oscar winner “Once Upon a Line,” and they like personal stories, which covers “Pear Cider and Cigarettes.” But also look out for “Blind Vaysha,” which has a spectacular look, and “The Head Vanishes,” which poetically sketches the journey of a woman suffering from dementia.

You can check to see how well I did with predictions on Tuesday morning, January 24.

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